In Dreams

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InDreams directedby Neil Jordan
NeilJordan knows what the screen is for. That's unusual for an artist who beganin literature, but right for one who used words to evoke feelings and images.His new movie In Dreams overflows with sights that suggest an artisthas opened up his subconscious for public display. This is not a gift to betaken lightly. Here in the digital age, technology has rendered most movie imageryunmemorable and inexpressive (you've every right to dread What DreamsMay Come). But Jordan's artistic integrity constantly goes for themythic.
As critic Gregory Solmanwrote, this plot is "unworthy" of Jordan's talents, and yet InDreams is not an example of impersonal hack work. His intelligence is stillevident in this lighter vein (as Orson Welles' was in The Stranger)and a real movie lover is compelled to point this out. It stands in contradistinctionto the fake cinematic extravagance of frivolous or bludgeoning movies. Jordangives In Dreams an uncanny, dreamlike pace. He seems to be rifling throughthe plot, finding the exalted image, the indelible hue or evocative compositional value to make it something more than formulaic. In Saturday night terms In Dreams might be less efficient than I Know What You Did Last Summeror The Faculty; those movies attempt little, their essence beingtied to manipulative plotting and easy scares. Jordan essays something subtler,more suggestive and lasting. From the opening scene of water rushing througha church vestibule toward the viewer, images come with startling immediacy.At the moment you register their exact symbolism, their lushness is overwhelming.More epiphanies unfurl: during the sequence of a worried mother searching forher daughter amid the costumed children of a school pageant; a woman escapingan asylum and finding herself in the middle of highway collisions at night;a boy swimming out of a flooded house to discover his entire town submerged;and the same child perched on a steeple?the highest point in town?whilerescue boats motor by on the newly created lake. Each of these moments (andmany others) rates applause?and wonder. They enhance the screen, as didsimilar sequences in Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis, Boorman'sDeliverance, Kubrick's The Shining and Altman's TheGingerbread Man. Jordan rises to that class of imaginative fantasy, turningthe medium's ability to capture human experience into extraordinary manifestations.It helps that Annette Bening as Clair, the distraught woman psychically alarmedfor her husband and daughter's safety, and Robert Downey Jr. as Vivian,the killer avenging his abused childhood, have charismatic faces. Both are emphaticwithout being conventionally attractive?a subliminal avidity that suggeststhey belong together as psychic twins. Through them, Jordan seems to have channeledsome substantive and affecting mental efflorescence. Dreams mix with memoriesand premonitions in the thickest profusion of dread, sadness and regret sinceDon't Look Now. Such scenes as Clair, catapultedby grief, driving a car through a fence into a river or sensing Vivian'sprison break and then following his path, step-by-intuited-step, occur in calmlymeasured strokes. Jordan, editor Tony Lawson and superb cinematographer DariusKhondji match two characters' pain through visual rhythm, achieving compassion(whereas in Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg went for the creeps). Thesesequences are genuinely, fully imagined?not like the facile quick-cuttingof Michael Bay or David Fincher?yet they don't seem fully dramatized.This problem points to the script (by Jordan and Bruce Robinson) being a too-commercialblueprint. After the initial, superficialthought that this was another of the misbegotten Neil-Jordan-in-Hollywood movieslike Interview with a Vampire (as opposed to his stronger British-madefilms), scenes from In Dreams left a sweet taste in my brain. Its schoolpageant scene, with gossamer-winged child fairies, an intense police hunt inthe woods and the climactic predator-trickster scenes with Clair, Vivian anda kidnapped girl in an overflowing apple cider mill, all recalled Jordan'sfirst great movie A Company of Wolves. That successful combination ofhigh art philology and accessible generic storyline (Little Red Riding Hood)was key to Jordan's distinctive artistry. He uses pop myths to explorepsychological complexity, which may be why Patrick McCabe's surrealistnovel The Butcher Boy was the basis for Jordan's most criticallyacclaimed film (it provided the mythic link to Jordan's other fascination?Irishfamily heritage). What In Dreams lacks,besides the old sod, is a clearer explanation of Clair's relation to Vivian.Jordan zips by the child Vivian's desperate need for fantasy as the linkto Clair's profession as author and illustrator of children's storybooks.(Their sexual dysfunction is obviously paired.) The movie seems preoccupiedwith hocus-pocus when Jordan, at his best, unleashes the subconscious phantomswrought by culture and parentage (Vivian's abused childhood and the floodingof his hometown by municipal edict are barely dramatized). Like Antonio Banderas in Interview, the final scenes of Vivian's self-torment achievean unsettling pity?the emotion always underlying Jordan's wonderment.As a companion piece to The Butcher Boy and A Company of Wolves,Clair's fated pas de deux with Vivian shows Jordan combining literaryand cinematic devices with contemporary horror in an attempt to expurgate society'sinner monsters. But being less socially/politically grounded than the tale ofpsychic twins in De Palma's magnificent The Fury, In Dreams'delirious high style wobbles on a sketchy premise. So while In Dreamsjoins the ranks of Jordan's most ruinously flawed movies High Spirits,We're No Angels and Interview with a Vampire, it's stillan impressive eyeful of cinema.

directed by MichaelPowell

Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese must have felt a collective dream was answered when,as young men in the early 60s, they both saw Michael Powell's PeepingTom. This dirty, compassionate thriller expressed something then new inthe culture to which they have kept faith, in De Palma's own movies andScorsese's sponsoring of Powell's last years (including PeepingTom's reissue this week at Film Forum). They recognized that in thisone picture British veteran Powell, coincidental with the French New Wave, gavefull, serious vent to the preoccupation with cinema as a way of seeing and pursuinglife.
Despite the grim premiseof a young filmmaker, Mark (Carl Boehm), whose avocation warps into Jack-the-Ripperpathology, the movie actually details an outcast's passion?as moviemania was once regarded (by some) as improper or obsessional. Even with thefilm's growing acceptance these past four decades, it still carries a stigma.Peeping Tom isn't really about voyeurism as some literal-mindedcritics like to say, but about private obsession. Powell and screenwriter LeoMarks closely parallel film with pornography and crime, exploring their own subcult fascination. The movie verifies an unsettling promise: that the practiceof cinema will always be disturbing. Scorsese and De Palma understand?asMichael Powell knew and Neil Jordan also shows?that movies can, with dreamlikeprecision, express personal and social disorder. It was up to a younger generationof filmmakers, such as De Palma and Scorsese, to underscore Peeping Tom'simplicit suggestion that such private pursuits had a primal, sexual nature. They did it through a more egotistical implementation of film grammar and sensual,kinetic style. Powell, whose work had been quite flamboyant in the 40s, is athis most subdued, almost literal, in Peeping Tom. Except for the openinggambit depicting the action through a camera's viewfinder, Powell'sstyle is unexceptional. Otto Heller's lustrous color photography conveys a sinister, drab air that, at the time, might have been mistaken for realism.De Palma and Scorsese saw through it to a particular truth?the Atomic Agefrankness about hidden impulses coming to light. The first daytime scene, ina smoke shop festooned with girlie magazines, features a vendor who secretlysells "studies" of models surreptitiously made by Mark, his timid clerk. Identifying with Mark, Scorseseand De Palma recognized his hobby as a specialized passion, connected to thesocially accepted attraction to disrobed models as well as the thrill of cinematicapparatus (film stock, developing wheels, projectors, screens, lights, the processof studio filmmaking) being openly fetishized at last. With all this, PeepingTom is a poetic distillation of the creative urge behind cinema's newera. Released the same year as Hitchcock's superior Psycho, it'san art film of particular (scholarly) erudition: It is to Psycho what Malick's Thin Red Line is to Spielberg's Saving PrivateRyan. Hitchcock's more dynamic approach to the changing cultural moodclarified the sexual neuroses on view while defining a new shock esthetic; Powell,in his usual, effete dream-state, effected a grisly rumination. "What'sthis war in the heart of cinema? Is there an avenging power in cinema? Not onepower but two?" Mark (cinema's mostsympathetic miscreant since Peter Lorre in M) is torn between expressinghis sexuality and his artistry, admiring the sweet, adoring Helen (Anna Massey)while killing other women with the blade hidden in his camera tripod. And Powellcommiserated with this decrepit young artist out of a genius' typical ambivalence.Examining the thin line between death and desire, Powell works out a modernphilosophical quandary. This came to be a central concern among psychoanalyticfilm critics but really it's just the male equivalent to the female dilemmain Powell's 1948 film The Red Shoes?art in a mortal strugglewith life. It's a phenomenal thesis; it even questions a filmmaker'ssocial responsibility and personal arrogance. Powell pushes Mark's (hisown) audacity to the life-taking limit?a fictional confession as candidas Mohsen Makmahlbaf's declaration in Salaam Cinema of the "sadism"inherent in filmmaking. For all this, PeepingTom, a significant movie, is not a great one but it holds great fascination?andis to be honored?for revealing the locus classicus of Brian De Palma'scinema. Powell paved the way for De Palma to take themes of sexual guilt, socialchange, scopophilia?the puzzle of modernist film esthetics?and transcendgenre as Peeping Tom simply does not. Most film critics, unsurprisingly,have misconstrued De Palma. Hitchcock is no more important to De Palma'sfilmmaking than Orson Welles; it's Peeping Tom that De Palma hasbeen "remaking" throughout his career, from Wotan's Wake toSnake Eyes. It's his prime text the way some artists extrapolate fromthe Bible, Shakespeare or Sartre. In the 1970 Hi, Mom!, where Robert De Niro played a Greenwich Village dissident trying to get laid and make "peepart" porn movies, De Palma advanced the relation between 16-mm photographyand voyeurism that now shows striking resemblance to the videocam era. Powell'sfilm title was also used as a multileveled tv joke at the start of Sisters.Mark's suffering as the subject of a mad-scientist father's cruelexperiments were the basis for De Palma's best 90s film, the bad childhoodnightmare Raising Cain. And in Mark's killing of an aged, matureMoira Shearer (the still-exquisite star of The Red Shoes) is a templatefor the heartrending sympathy and cosmic cruelty shown to Angie Dickinson inDressed to Kill and all De Palma's screen ladies. It's no surprise thatDe Palma's movies are constantly as misinterpreted as Peeping Tomwas in its time. Sex, violence, guilt and art are rarely well understood, butthat's the challenge some pop artists boldly undertake by fearlessly puttingthose issues together?out of dreams onto the screen. Clipped Adream to some, a nightmare to others. Robert Bresson's Les Dames deBois du Boulogne (at MOMA Fri., Jan. 29, at 2:30) is the most oneiric ofmasterpieces. This peep into several Parisians' souls is rarely screened;its lasting influence is worth discussing next week.

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